The August issue of Reader's Digest featured a long article on Utica's refugee population, titled "Second Chance City: A wave of refugees brings new life to a dying American town." Though they took exception to the article's title, Utica Mayor Timothy Julian, Utica-based pollster John Zogby and Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees Executive Director Peter Vogelaar said the article presented the city in a positive light and could bring good publicity.
Sadly, I think describing Utica as a dying town is all too accurate. In the last 15 years we've watched our population and average wages steadily decline as businesses fled the area, and the state as a whole, for friendlier climes. Over 60% of our population is employed by government agencies or non-profit organizations supported by taxpayer dollars. The remaining private sector jobs are primarily low-skill or semi-skilled labor dominated by retail sales, warehousing operations, and clerical workers.
The stream of legal immigrants flowing into the city is, quite literally, the only thing keeping the area from total economic collapse. Without that influx of population the area would be hard pressed to support the ever increasing tax load of public services, but we're starting to reach the point where even first and second generation immigrants are going to start leaving because of the lack of opportunity.
In the meantime we'll keep looking for quick fixes to revitalize the economy while continuing to ignore the elephant in the room- our taxes are too high. Everyone knows it, study after study demonstrates the negative impact of the high cost of doing business here, but our political class is so beholden to the very people slurping up all those tax dollars that nothing serious will ever be done to fix the problem.